Solar Generation or Photovoltaics (PV) is a term which covers the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon studied in physics, photochemistry, and electrochemistry.
A typical photovoltaic system employs solar panels, each comprising a number of solar cells, which generate electrical power. PV installations may be ground-mounted, rooftop mounted or wall mounted. The mount may be fixed, or use a solar tracker to follow the sun across the sky.
Solar PV has specific advantages as an energy source as its operation generates no pollution and no greenhouse gas emissions once installed, it shows simple scalability in respect of power needs and silicon has large availability in the Earth’s crust.
PV systems have the major disadvantage that the power output is dependent on direct sunlight, so about 10-25% is lost if a tracking system is not used, since the cell will not be directly facing the sun at all times. Dust, clouds, and other things in the atmosphere also diminish the power output. Another main issue is the concentration of the production in the hours corresponding to main insolation, which don't usually match the peaks in demand in human activity cycles.
Photovoltaic systems have long been used in specialized applications, and standalone and grid-connected PV systems have been in use since the 1990s. They were first mass-produced in 2000, when German environmentalists and the Eurosolar organization got government funding for a ten thousand roof program.
Advances in technology and increased manufacturing scale have significantly reduced the cost, increased the reliability, and increased the efficiency of photovoltaic installations. Net metering and financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity, have supported solar PV installations in many countries. More than 100 countries now use solar PV.
After hydro and wind power, PV is the third largest renewable energy source in terms of globally capacity. In 2014, worldwide installed PV capacity increased to 177 gigawatts (GW), which is two percent of global electricity demand. China, followed by Japan and the United States, is the fastest growing market, while Germany remains the world's largest producer, with solar PV providing seven percent of annual domestic electricity consumption.
The Australian PV Institute provides a web site here where you can understand the Australian solar PV market with live generation data, historical maps and animations, and tools to explore rooftop PV potential and per-postcode market penetration. Click here.
Large-scale solar PV (defined as greater than 5MW) remains in its infancy in Australia with only 4 projects commissioned and a further 4 under construction.
When the projects currently under construction are complete, installed capacity of large-scale PV will total 262 MW. This is well behind the installed capacity of comparable international markets.
The Government Federal Agency ARENA has observed significant cost reduction in large-scale solar PV over the past few years and expects this to continue due to a combination of international and local improvements.
The cost trajectory of large-scale solar PV is expected to see the technology become competitive without additional support within the medium term.
The ARENA competitive round is expected to be critical in supporting this outcome by helping to close the current cost gap that exists between large-scale solar PV and other commercially competitive forms of power generation, including wind energy. The round outcomes can be viewed here.
Solar has a natural fit with wind generation when coupled with battery storage. Further the costs of solar are favourably impacted by the shared connection cost even if the resource may not be as good as other potential locations in Australia. The Victorian Government Renewable Energy Roadmap has Solar systems or PV as a major part of its intended pathway - view here.